An endangered list of elements used in everyday gadgets has been created by scientists.

Some materials commonly used in mobile phones and other gadgets have been listed as under ‘serious threat’. 

This includes gallium, arsenic, yttrium and silver.  

Scientists have developed a periodic table which highlights the scarcity of the 90 natural elements, with around 30 used in mobile phones. 

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The modernised periodic table (pictured) was designed to mark the 150th anniversary of its original creation in 1869.  It highlights the scarcity of the 90 natural elements, with around 30 used in mobile phones


The modernised periodic table (pictured) was designed to mark the 150th anniversary of its original creation in 1869.  It highlights the scarcity of the 90 natural elements, with around 30 used in mobile phones

It is estimated that about 10 million smartphones are discarded or replaced every month in the European Union alone. 

Scientists have raised concerns that there will be an increasing scarcity of some elements due to limited supplies, elements being located in conflict areas and an incapacity to fully recycle.

European Chemical Society (EuChemS) represents more than 160,000 chemists and it developed the table to highlight both the remaining availability of all 90 elements and their vulnerability.

The table will be launched at the European Parliament today by Labour MEPs Catherine Stihler and Clare Moody.

The event will also highlight the discovery of the oldest-known wallchart of the periodic table, discovered last year at the University of St Andrews. 

Work has been undertaken to authenticate and preserve the large, fragile chart after it was found among old equipment in 2014. 

Dmitri Mendeleev made his famous disclosure on periodicity in 1869, and the University of St Andrews chart bears an inscription identifying a scientific printer who operated in Vienna between 1875 and 1888. 

Professor David Cole-Hamilton, Emeritus Professor in Chemistry at the university, questioned the replacement of mobile phones every two years and urged users to recycle old phones correctly.

Professor Cole-Hamilton said: ‘It is astonishing that everything in the world is made from just 90 building blocks, the 90 naturally-occurring chemical elements.

‘There is a finite amount of each and we are using some so fast that they will be dissipated around the world in less than 100 years.

‘Many of these elements are endangered, so should you really change your phone every two years?’

Ms Stihler said: ‘As we mark the 150th anniversary of the periodic table, it’s fascinating to see it updated for the 21st century.

‘It’s also deeply worrying to see how many elements are on the endangered list, including those which make up mobile phones.

‘It is a lesson to us all to care for the world around us, as these naturally-occurring elements won’t last forever unless we increase global recycling rates and governments introduce a genuine circular economy.’ 

Elements in red on the periodic table at most at risk from total depletion in the foreseeable future. 

One chemical integral to the modern world but not used in mobile phones which is helium, the second lightest of all elements.   

Ask most chemists who discovered the periodic table and you will almost certainly get the answer Dmitri Mendeleev (pictured). The Russian scientist was the first to publish a version of the table that we would recognise today, in 1869

Ask most chemists who discovered the periodic table and you will almost certainly get the answer Dmitri Mendeleev (pictured). The Russian scientist was the first to publish a version of the table that we would recognise today, in 1869

HOW WAS THE PERIODIC TABLE CREATED?

Chemists have always looked for ways of arranging the elements to reflect the similarities between their properties. 

The modern periodic table lists the elements in order of increasing atomic number – the number of protons in the nucleus of an atom.

Historically, however, relative atomic masses were used by scientists trying to organise the elements. 

This was mainly because the idea of atoms being made up of smaller sub-atomic particles – protons, neutrons and electrons –  had not been developed. 

Nevertheless, the basis of the modern periodic table was well established and even used to predict the properties of undiscovered elements long before the concept of the atomic number was developed. 

Ask most chemists who discovered the periodic table and you will almost certainly get the answer Dmitri Mendeleev. 

The Russian scientist was the first to publish a version of the table that we would recognise today, in 1869, but does he deserve all the credit?

A number of other chemists before Mendeleev were investigating patterns in the properties of the elements that were known at the time. 

The earliest attempt to classify the elements was in 1789, when Antoine Lavoisier grouped the elements based on their properties into gases, non-metals, metals and earths. 

Several other attempts were made to group elements together over the coming decades. 

In 1829, Johann Döbereiner recognised triads of elements with chemically similar properties, such as lithium, sodium and potassium, and showed that the properties of the middle element could be predicted from the properties of the other two.

It was not until a more accurate list of the atomic mass of the elements became available at a conference in Karlsruhe, Germany in 1860 that real progress was made towards the discovery of the modern periodic table.

This area of the website celebrates the work of many famous scientists whose quest to learn more about the world we live in and the atoms that make up the things around us led to the periodic table as we know it today.

Source: The Royal Society of Chemistry 

Professor David Cole-Hamilton urged people not to let off birthday party balloons into the atmosphere as the inert gas was needed for MRI scans and deep sea diving.

There is no chemical way of manufacturing helium; the supplies on Earth come from the very slow radioactive alpha decay that occurs in rocks. 

He said: ‘By having Helium balloons at your birthday party you may prevent people from having an MRI scan.

‘We are recycling it from the MRI scans and most of it from the deep sea diving but we are not recycling from the balloons.

‘In both of those applications it’s recycled, however Helium is very very light, if it gets into the atmosphere it can escape.

‘If we recycle I think we would be fine but if we gradually put balloons up in the atmosphere then the timescale will be shorter.

‘The timescale is shorter than Indium – it is ten years.’

The Professor explained the world had about six years of Helium supply from a mine in Tanzania with the rest coming from the US.

Smartphones could become unaffordable without better recycling of the chemicals in them, he added.

A periodic table (pictured) uncovered during a laboratory clear-out is believed to be the oldest in the world. The teaching chart dating from around 1885 was discovered in the chemistry department at St Andrews University

A periodic table (pictured) uncovered during a laboratory clear-out is believed to be the oldest in the world. The teaching chart dating from around 1885 was discovered in the chemistry department at St Andrews University

Professor Eric Scerri from the University of California has dated the St Andrews version of the table (pictured) to between 1879 and 1886

Professor Eric Scerri from the University of California has dated the St Andrews version of the table (pictured) to between 1879 and 1886

Professor Cole-Hamilton added supplies of Indium, which is used to create smartphone and TV screens were due to run out in 20 years. 

Indium is also used in lasers for fibre optics, for cold welding of electrical components and in blue LEDs    

He said: ‘That ore will run out in about 20 years in the rate we are using it.

‘We will be able to [build mobile phones] but it will become much more expensive.

‘We would have to pay more for it and probably people at the lower end of the economic activity spectrum would find each much more difficult but may they would keep their phones for longer.

‘But I think that won’t happen because scientists are waking up to the fact that this is a problem.’

Describing what he believes needs to happen to avoid elements running out, he said: ‘We have to first of all reduce the number of mobile phones. We exchange one million mobile phones in the UK every month.

‘Secondly, we should be able to replace the battery, then we have to recycle all the elements that are in it and we have to look for replacements which are more abundant.’

Asked who was responsible, he said: ‘The consumer and of course, the manufacturers because they want to sell more phones, they want you to change your mobile more often.

‘We have to have a proper process for recycling materials.’

WHAT ELEMENTS ARE USED IN MOBILE PHONES AND WHEN WILL THEY RUN OUT? 

Mobile phones and other electronic devices rely on a plethora of electronics which may soon be in short supply. 

Many are still in surplus but some are potentially going to be extinct naturally within the next century. 

Plentiful supply of mobile phone elements

Hydrogen 

Carbon 

Aluminium 

Silicon 

Oxygen 

Potassium 

Bromine 

Lanthanum 

Praseodymium

Europium

Gadolinium

Terbium

Limited availability 

Lithium  

Magnesium 

Phosphorous

Nickel 

Copper 

Neodymium

Tin

Antimony

Tungsten 

Gold 

Lead 

Rising threat 

Cobalt  

Dysprosium 

Serious threat        

Gallium 

Arsenic  

Yttrium

Silver 

Indium   



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